A Cuban Excursion
Contributed by: Duane Mallast – RD3
The night was warm and we had been on station for a couple of days. Our station was on the Southern coast of Cuba approximately 25 miles off the coast. When radar picked up a contact coming at us from the coast of Cuba. The contact was extremely small and at first was thought to be a glitch in the radar. The contact continued to close on the Johnston though.
General Quarters was called to have all stations manned and ready at approximately 22:30. A dispatch was sent to the Quantanamo Bay Base, stating our situation. With the contact continuing to close, with a speed of 15 knots, the Captain turned the Johnston towards the contact. As the contact came within 200 yards of the ship, radar lost contact. The lookouts were trying very hard to pick up movement in the water. Flashes of light were thought to have been seen, but nothing confirmed. Being it was night and having an overcast sky, it was very hard to see any movement on the water.
General Quarters was not secured but relaxed for the moment. Our previous heading was resumed. Then radar reacquired the contact at our stern; the contact was turning and setting a course to follow us. Tension was very high through out the ship. The Captain turned away from the coast and tried to acquire the contact visually with the lookouts and other personnel on the bridge. But this time the contact was doing a much better job of staying out of our way. Turning before we could get close enough to try for identification.
This continued on for approximately three hours as we played cat and mouse with this contact. Never really getting real close to the contact. When we were approximately 50 miles off of the coast of Cuba and again closing on the contact from its stern. All of the ship spotlights were put at the ready, when we again closed to within 200 yards and lost contact on the radar. All of the spot lights were turned on to get an identification of the unknown contact.
To the amazement of the Captain, and all of the crew, the Johnston had been at GQ for the past three hours chasing a very large flock of birds. Which appeared to be seagulls. A dispatch was sent to Quantanamo telling them what had been identified and that we had secured GQ and were returning to our station.
The radar operator that seen the original contact on the radar, determined the speed and course it was on, was exchanged for another operator when GQ was called. This was proper protocol, that operator then went to his GQ station in CIC (Combat Information Center). After a few minutes the new operator could not see or find the contact. The original operator was returned to the radar screen and it took a few minutes but the contact was found again. Remember, it was an extremely small contact on the radar screen. This operator was then stationed on the radar for the rest of the time GQ was in place. During GQ he had contact with the lookouts that were trying to fine the object that the radar had picked up. He kept them informed at all times as to where the contact was when it was inside of the 200 feet around the Johnston, the area radar could not see.
If you are wondering who the radar operator was during all of this excitement, he was a new Radarman Apprentice. Who had just gone through over 6 months of electronics and radar operations in the Radar School at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He had then been stationed on the USS Johnston in July of 1962, while the ship was in the Boston Naval ship yards just finishing FRAM 1 (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization). Then, that fall of 1962 trouble started around Cuba. The crew of the Johnston was put on alert that the ship had to be ready to sail in a very short time. When it did finally get under way, the ship skipped down the East coast getting supplies of all sorts. By the time the USS Johnston made it to Cuba, everybody was still on high alert, but it seemed that things had quieted down, just a little bit, very, very little really. All of the destroyer patrols were still being maintained around Cuba watching for anything. Oh ya, back to that Radarman Apprentice. He was on an extremely high learning curve in CIC and the radar. He had been stationed mostly on the radar screen whenever he had duty in CIC. At the time CIC operations was doing 4 hours on and 8 hours off. The 8 hours off, rest, eat and maintain another area of the ship. Oh ya, the Radarman Apprentice, Duane Mallast. What a way to start during your first 4 months on a Destroyer and in CIC.